Monday, November 5, 2007

Conflicting Standards

Thankfully, more black people are fed up with the portrayals of the race in the media:
Wearing white T-shirts with red stop signs and chanting “BET does not reflect me, MTV does not reflect me,” protesters have been gathering every Saturday outside the homes of Viacom executives in Washington and New York City. The orderly, mostly black crowds are protesting music videos that they say degrade women, and black and Latino men.
Unfortunately, the remedies they propose are probably a bit much:
Among other things the protesters want media companies like Viacom to develop “universal creative standards” for video and music, including prohibitions on some language and images.
I, for one, am all for toning-down the 'gangsta' and other ignorant images prevalent in today's pop culture, but I cannot think of any "universal creative standard" which would serve any real purpose. Using the power of protest to show angry disapproval of the status quo on BET is a good thing -- assigning some arbitrary standard of how to portray black people is quite another.

That said, the protests, as some in the article incorrectly conclude, are not censorship. They are perfectly acceptable exercises of 1st Amendment rights to Free Speech and Free Association, just as the rappers have their right to say what they want. The conflict revolves around the over-abundance of airtime businesses have given the latter's messages. Bringing bad publicity and perhaps financial penalties-- through lost revenue, not fines -- can bring changes without involving government standards, which would be censorship.

Just because these protesters and people like me find a lot of the black caricatures on BET and MTV offensive and debasing, does not give anyone other than the owners of the companies the right to remove that material, no matter how much I believe a lot of that material deserves to be scrapped forever. Censorship, in the true sense, is an affront to the principles of America's founding, regardless of the nature of the material in question.

No one's standards of taste should be enforced by law.

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